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  • Jon Hart

An Interview with Philly Sports Fanatic KRAV!

Peter Kravitz has worn many hats in the sports world. He grew up a Philadelphia sports fanatic. He was the spring training bat boy for the Phillies. Then, he was a Blue Hen, a wrestler at the University of Delaware. Following graduation, he coached wrestling at Haverford College. After a stint as a sports writer, Kravitz switched gears entirely and became a high school teacher.

For twenty-nine years, he taught English and coached sports teams at Wantagh High School on Long Island, where he was simply known as KRAV. Recently, Krav wrote about his experiences in his memoir, So You Wanna Be a Teacher. He took a few moments to discuss his book and epic teaching career, as well as some of his most memorable sports adventures, including hallway wrestling.  


STADIUM JOURNEY: So, what inspired you to write So You Wanna Be a Teacher?

KRAV: I tried to write it several times while I was teaching but never got anywhere. Then, I retired and found a different starting point. I had a breakdown at 20, landed in a mental hospital, and started telling that story, which flowed easily into teaching.  


SJ: A lot of people have preconceived notions of what it's like to be a teacher. Positives? Negatives? Would you do it all over again?

KRAV: It’s a very difficult, exhausting job, not just teaching five to six classes a day but all of your interactions with the kids, colleagues, and administrators. I tried to say hello to so many of the kids and see how they were doing. You grade papers at home, eat dinner, and pass out, as you have to be up very early. But it’s also very rewarding. You feel like you’re making a difference in kids’ lives. Also, being around kids can be uplifting. They’re young, and their lives are ahead of them. Would I do it all over again? Knowing how hard and exhausting it was, I’m not sure. Journalism or broadcasting might have been interesting, but it wouldn’t have been as rewarding. 


SJ: When you were teaching, how did you handle phones? How much of a problem was it?

KRAV: I wasn’t a very good disciplinarian. If kids were disruptive with the phones, I’d tell them to put them away. The rules were always changing regarding whether we could confiscate them. With a bad class, however, phones were good. The obnoxious kids would get distracted with them and not disrupt the class. I’d let those kids disappear into their phones.  


SJ: In addition to teaching, you coached a lot of high school teams. Which was your favorite sport to coach? 

KRAV: I coached varsity wrestling, and I still coach varsity golf and middle school baseball. I enjoyed coaching high school wrestling. Frank Muzio and I built up the program at Wantagh. In Frank’s final match as coach, several years after I stepped down, a freshman named Paul Liguori won Wantagh’s first state title in over three decades at Nassau Coliseum. After Frank left coaching, national wrestling hall of Famer Paul Gillespie took over and turned the program into one of the best in New York State.


SJ: Is the Bethpage Black Course all that?  

KRAV: I probably played the Black about ninety times. I first played it in the late 80’s when it was a complete mess. Once they decided to host the U.S. Open, they put a lot of money into it. It’s a great tract. There’s water in only one hole. The course’s protection is thick and rough. You can be two yards from the fairway, and all you can do is advance a wedge forty yards. The best round I ever had there from the white tees was eighty-three in April at age 49. The rough wasn’t thick and gnarly yet. You need to be in shape to play the Black. There are no carts allowed. It’s an eight-mile, hilly trek. I remember playing with one guy who ate up the front and was even par. He said it was an easy course. You don’t let the golfing gods hear you say that. He became exhausted and shot like ten over on the back. There’s one spot on the back, this one tree on the par five 13, on the right side, where a lot of golfers have supposedly had heart attacks. I once played with a random teenager who had an albatross, a double eagle, on 13.

SJ: Backtracking, you grew up in the Philadelphia area. What was your favorite stadium venue to attend as a young Krav?  

KRAV:  Connie Mack Stadium was great. My grandparents had seats on the field between the third base dugout and the screen. Balls would get fouled up on the roof behind home plate, and you never knew when they’d come crashing down. Sometimes they’d make their way down five minutes later. One almost killed my grandfather. I saw Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente play there. I was at its last game in 1970. I wanted to grab a base or something. I was 10. But fans were ripping seats out, and my grandparents rushed me out of there before the game ended. But my best Philly sports moment came at the Vet. I was at the Vet’s first game in 1971, and we thought it was a technological wonder with its dancing fountains, big scoreboards, and Astroturf. My grandparents had another box on the field, one box away from the Phils’ dugout on the first base side. My college buddy Jeff Gowan, a New Yorker, and a Yankees fan, bugged me to ask them for tickets to Game Six of the 1980 World Series. Jeff went on to a legendary career as an NFL and MLB producer for Fox. He produced the Bartman game and the Jeter-flip game. As Tug McGraw came off the mound after escaping the eighth inning, he looked over at Jeff and me and pounded his heart. We were about ten feet from Bob Boone when he dropped a foul pop-up in the top of the ninth, and Pete Rose backed him up and snatched it before it hit the turf. That was one of the most incredible and clutch plays I’ve ever seen. And I got a foul ball at that game, which I still have. When the Phillies finally won, I thought I’d get a base, but Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo had cops on horseback circle the field, so there’d be no souvenirs. But my grandparents didn’t try to beat the crowd, so I witnessed a Philadelphia miracle championship win. 


SJ: You wrestled for the University of Delaware. How'd you get so good and what makes wrestling different from other sports in college?

KRAV: I started wrestling very late, as a high school sophomore. In Pennsylvania, the best wrestling state in the country, you don’t stand much of a chance if you don’t start young, but I was obsessed. I lifted, ran, and wrestled in summer tournaments across the state in places like Shamokin. My high school program was led by a great coach, Bill Zimmerman, and some great wrestlers like Billy Pincus, who went to nationals for William and Mary and then became the head coach there. My wrestling partner in Delaware, Don Philippi, became the winningest wrestler in Delaware history for a brief time. Wrestling him every day made me tough. You improve in wrestling when you have partners who either beat you up or battle you. We wrestled at the Delaware Fieldhouse, a huge indoor facility but never got big crowds. What makes wrestling different from other sports? It’s not about athleticism. It’s about training, repetition, and quick thinking. It’s like chess with attacks and counters. You’d think it’s about brute strength, but it’s very tactical. 


SJ: So let's talk about your great contribution to Wantagh High School: hallway wrestling. Explain. What were the rules? How intense did it get?

KRAV: It was probably a stupid thing to do, but I would grab a wrestler in the hallway and battle him. I would usually go after the little guys because I could tie them up. I often had a 70-pound advantage. There were no rules. They wouldn’t be able to get away from me, and I’d tell their class that I’d beaten a county or state champ. I made the mistake of going after a kid my weight at 50. He was a state champ, one of Wantagh’s all-time greats. Maybe I did it because he was my student in three classes, and he drove me a little crazy. He was great at throws, but for some dumb reason, I thought I could toss him. He hurled me into a wall. I retired from hallway wrestling after that ignominious defeat. 


SJ: Favorite sports venue to attend? 

KRAV: Two of my children went to Wisconsin, so I went to a bunch of college games at Camp Randall. I love college football with the bands and traditions. I saw Russell Wilson’s first Big Ten game. The Badgers battered Nebraska at Camp Randall, which is famous for its third-quarter jump around. It’s a little scary because the whole stadium shakes. The governor of Nebraska told the Nebraskans to wear black, as both teams’ colors were red. Everywhere you went, there were folks in black shirts. Most of them didn’t even go to the game. They just wanted to soak up the atmosphere. 


SJ: And the most important question for last: best bagel on Long Island?

KRAV: Well, I’ve tried to go all healthy in my golden years, but I still eat bagels, so I’ll go with House of Bagels in Commack. And don’t forget New York has the best pizza in the world. You can’t get bad pizza here, but my favorite is Villa Monte in Old Bethpage. I love the vodka grandma slices.

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